We think it’s fair to say that we at TopTenz have a man crush on Bruce Lee, and judging by how popular the articles and videos we’ve dedicated to him are, we think that’s a feeling you share. So we reached out to the biggest Bruce Lee fan we had on staff and asked him to write another list of facts about all of the things Bruce Lee accomplished during his short but explosive time on this mortal coil.
10. Bruce Lee Made a Sidekick More Popular Than a Main Character
While it’s likely you remember Bruce Lee for his roles in Enter the Dragon, Fist of Fury or that one movie where he does a flying kick off of a 30 story building because someone called him gay, Lee’s first major role was that of Kato in the ill-fated Green Hornet series.
As we’ve discussed before, Lee secured the role of Kato in an impressive demonstration of skill that included him showing that he could kick a man in the head while wearing a three piece suit. Lee incorporated his skills as a martial artist into the role of Kato and the character quickly became the most popular aspect of the show, even though he was supposed to be the Green Hornet’s sidekick. While the show only ran for one season, Kato and his lightning fast attacks were sufficiently popular to make Lee a household name.
In fact, Kato was so popular that when the show aired in Hong Kong, locals simply referred to it as “The Kato Show” because as far as they were concerned, Kato was the only reason it was worth watching.
9. Bruce Lee Made Experts Agree That He Was Unbeatable
When we say something like “Bruce Lee was probably unbeatable in a fight,” you’re going to take that with a huge pinch of salt because we’re obviously biased. However, this isn’t just an opinion touted by Lee’s fans — it’s almost universally agreed that he was the finest fighter to have ever lived.
Just to be clear, we said “fighter,” not “martial artist,” as in experts from numerous fighting disciplines have agreed that Lee would have been able to hold his own against, if not beat, anyone in a fight. For example, Jackie Chan has gone on record as saying that Lee had the fastest punch he’d ever seen, while Chuck Norris responded to the question of who’d win in a fight between him and Lee with “Bruce, of course. Nobody can beat him.”
Numerous boxers have also praised Lee’s skills. Sugar Ray Leonard described him as “second to none” while Joe Lewis described him as the “number one contender” for the title of greatest martial artist of all time. Experts examining Lee’s hand speed have also concluded that if he’d ever been serious about boxing, he could have been more than a match for champions of the sport like Manny Pacquiao.
Amongst fans of combat sports, arguing about who’d win in a fight between two vastly different fighters is incredibly common, so the fact that this many experts on the subject have all agreed that Lee would win against anyone is an achievement on par with making an internet commenter admit they were wrong.
8. Lee Was a Cha Cha Champion
As proof that there wasn’t anything Bruce Lee couldn’t accomplish if it involved using his feet to kick other people’s asses, allow us to blow your mind by telling you that Bruce Lee was the 1958 Hong Kong Cha Cha Champion.
Lee supposedly only learned to dance as a way of impressing girls who didn’t appreciate the fact he could do two fingered push-ups and jump eight feet into the air, but as he became more invested in his martial arts training he realized that a lot of what he learned dancing could be translated to kicking ass. In particular, Lee was interested in how various dance steps helped him become more agile and balanced on his tiny cat feet.
7. His Fighting Style and Philosophy Lives On (Through the Power Rangers)
Some would say that a man’s achievements can be measured by what he left behind when he departed the world to go dropkick angels in the face. If we apply that logic to Bruce Lee you can directly attribute him to one of the most awesome aspects of your childhood — the Power Rangers.
Jason David Frank, the guy who played the Green and White Ranger in the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, has said that Bruce Lee is one of his biggest heroes and that he’s incorporated both his fighting style and philosophy into his own particular style of Toso Kune Do. The same can be said for Frank’s Power Rangers co-star Jonny Bosch Yong, who also studied Lee’s personal fighting style of Jeet Kune Do. Speaking of which…
6. Bruce Lee Invented His Own (Awesome) Martial Art
Jeet Kune Do, henceforth shorted to JKD, is the hybrid martial art Bruce Lee developed when he realized that classical martial arts were too rigid in their structure for modern fighting. Lee studied many different combat forms to create JKD, including boxing, Wing Chun and even fencing, and it consists of what Lee felt were the best aspects of each. The martial art itself focuses on explosive, efficient movements designed to end a fight with as little energy expended as possible. Lee focused on the concept of “non-telegraphed” attacks, punches and kicks that explode from the user’s body with no visible wind-up to catch an opponent off-guard.
In other words, Bruce Lee invented a fighting style that revolves entirely around the idea of spontaneously sprouting fists from your body to punch people in the neck, then had a Power Ranger learn to use it. If that isn’t an achievement, we don’t know what is.
5. A Black Belt Couldn’t Stop His Punch (When He Knew It Was Coming)
Lee was keen to show off some of the more fantastic things he could do. For example, during a tournament in 1967, Bruce Lee approached a black belt named Vic Moore and asked him if he’d like to take part in a test of skill. Moore agreed and Lee casually explained that he was going to stand several feet back and attempt to punch Moore in the dome. All Moore had to do to win was stop or intercept the punch. Moore was allowed to tell Bruce when he was ready, giving him the absolute best chance possible the block the punch.
Moore agreed to the terms and both he and Lee stood apart from one another for a few moments while Moore composed himself. After psyching himself up Moore nodded to Bruce that he was ready, but before he could move Lee had closed the distance and thrown a punch that stopped an inch from his nose.
Lee did this eight times before Moore was forced to concede that Lee was simply too fast to block, although Lee never heard him because by the time Moore finished talking he was half-way across the room (probably).
4. He Was Also a Kick-ass Poet and Philosopher
Although poetry and martial arts may seem like they’re diametrically opposed, the two share a surprisingly strong bond. Lee was always keen to strengthen his mind as well as his body, presumably so that he could beat someone with psychic powers if a fight came to that.
Lee was famously a very well-read individual, and he had a vast library on the subject of philosophy and poetry. But Lee didn’t just read — he did what he did in every other aspect of his life and jumped right in. His most famous philosophical gem is probably his “be like water” quote, but that’s far from the only thing Lee wrote. People studying his private notes, letters and writings have discovered that Lee was a remarkably astute individual.
Then there was his poetry. While Lee never published any of his work, his notes revealed him to be a consummate poet who even translated some of his favorite pieces by other poets so he could share them with his loved ones. Aw.
3. He Never Stopped Moving or Exercising
Whether he was at home or at work, there was never a moment in Bruce Lee’s life that he wasn’t actively improving his body. Eyewitness testimonies liken the actor’s body to “warm marble,” a quote that was reportedly uttered by the wife of one of Lee’s directors after she sheepishly asked to feel his biceps. Others talk about him casually doing one armed pull-ups in-between takes.
Lee’s widow has noted that he would do thousands of sit-ups and push-ups per day, and that she’d sometimes walk in on him watching TV while doing the splits. Lee would occasionally run five miles backwards just to test himself, and would ride 10 miles on an exercise bike while wearing a sauna belt because he felt it would help him develop his core.
While he was training Lee would never stop moving his feet, feinting and doing his signature shuffle even when practicing against boards or pads because he didn’t want to get complacent. And when he trained with other people he insisted that they did so in full pads while constantly trying to resist his attacks and movements, because Bruce Lee did everything the hard way.
2. Lee Taught the Best Karate Fighters in America How To Fight
After Lee became famous he was inundated with requests for private lessons from celebrities. While Lee was initially hesitant to teach such lessons, the money was too good to ignore and he went on to have a host of celebrity clients.
To his surprise, a number of accomplished martial artists also sought him out and begged for private lessons. Lee was happy to provide such training and many of his students (including Chuck Norris) went on to publicly thank him for his training.
To give you an idea of the pedigree of fighter Bruce had seeking his advice, at one point Lee was training men who had won every major karate championship in the United States. There just isn’t a word to describe how insane that is. That would be like Usain Bolt teaching a cheetah, an antelope and a peregrine falcon how to move faster and then having them all thank him on national TV.
1. He Changed How Asians Were Viewed in Pop Culture
Perhaps Bruce Lee’s biggest impact on the world is how he fundamentally changed how Asians were portrayed in pop culture. Prior to Lee, Asians in film and television were either bumbling racist stereotypes or absent altogether, something Lee hated and wanted to fix. But after the cancellation of The Green Hornet he was unable to find work, simply because nobody wanted to cast an Asian man as a lead character. If that wasn’t bad enough, Lee learned about the show’s cancellation when an executive named Bill Dozier sent him a note reading “Confucius say, Green Hornet to buzz no more.”
Rather than letting racism get him down, Lee went back to Hong Kong in 1971 and appeared in the films that would catapult him to super-stardom. After the release of Fist of Fury, Lee awesomely wrote to the head of Warner Bros saying “This Chinaman will invade the States, one way or the other.” A year later, Lee was working on the film that would make him a household name, Enter the Dragon, the first “Chinese martial arts film” to ever be produced by a Hollywood studio.
Sadly, Lee died just six days before the film premiered. He never saw the impact it had on the world or on the way Asians were portrayed by the media. But in death Lee had the last laugh against everyone who passed him over because his race, because Enter the Dragon would go on to become one of the most culturally significant movies ever made and Lee himself has been crowned one of the most influential people of the century by Time. Boy, we hope Bill Dozier felt really bad when he read that issue.